Last week, the Giants acquired Carlos Beltran for their very best pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, and promptly went on to beat the Phillies to complete a winning series of two out of three. A few people wondered if it was time to consider the possibility that they could catch the Phillies for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
They then went to Cincinnati and were embarrisingly swept by a Reds teams that had been swept by the Beltran-less Mets in four straight before that – those same Reds lost another ballgame the next night to the Houston Astros, a team that I’m pretty sure a great Juco school could take care of if they had their best guy going.
That brought us to this week. The Giants still carried a two-game lead in the division, but they’ve been beaten rather handily two nights in a row and now sit in a dead heat with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D’backs were supposed to finish in fifth place this season, maybe move a chip or two at the deadline to stock their farm a bit more, and let things steep a little while longer before coming back strong in 2012 or 2013. So much for that. This lacks context, but all that stands between Arizona and sole possession of first place in the NL West is a guy the Giants traded in 2001 for Jason Schmidt who ended up in Japan after compiling a 5.86 ERA coming into the season.
Things looked good in the first inning when Tim Lincecum came out throwing 95 and 96 mile per hour fastballs. But after the Giants took a brief 1-0 lead (that should have grown to at least 2-0, were it not for Aubrey Huff’s inability to make an RBI out), Lincecum coughed it up on a two-run home run after Double-A callup Paul Goldschmidt deposited a get-it-in fastball deep into the left field bleachers. It sure appears the kid with 31 home runs in Double-A can hit.
But as I was saying, the Snakes are for real.
And do you recall last offsesaon when Justin Upton was shopped? Funny, that. That seems like a million years ago. On this night, he made a spectacular running and jumping catch near the right field arcade at Mays Field; later, he punished a high fastball from Ramon Ramirez that caught too much plate. That’s why I wrote this about him this offseason, were the Giants to be interested:
“If the Diamondbacks are willing to move Upton, they are wishing to rebuild or at least reconstruct their roster. If Sabean called and started with [Jonathan] Sanchez, Towers hangs up. Moreover, Towers would likely be after not only [Madison] Bumgarner, but also Brandon Belt and possibly Pablo Sandoval. That’s the reality of acquiring Justin Upton at this point in time – Towers is not desperate in any shape or form, he’s simply shooting for the moon and hoping someone builds him a space shuttle.”
Anyway, this post isn’t meant to be about the D’backs or Justin Upton. They’re clearly a good team and Upton is clearly a fantastic player, a star. No, what this post is about the Giants’ offensive futility. Who would have guessed?
● ● ● ●
When the Giants first acquired Orlando Cabrera, I wasn’t outraged. I mean, it was to be expected. It was the most ‘San Francisco Giants deadline deal’ in history. Miguel Tejada is hurt, so they traded for his twin sister — they simply cannot survive without an over-the-hill shortstop. Now it’s hard to argue that Cabrera isn’t an upgrade offensively over Brandon Crawford. But please don’t jump the gun; that statement has everything to do with how over matched Crawford has looked this season, especially of late, and nothing to do with how good or bad Cabrera is. For the record, he’s bad.
But there are two reasons I’d simply rather keep running Crawford out there every day. The first is that Crawford is obviously the younger, more athletic, better shortstop. He has outs in his glove, as they say. Cabrera may be a defensive upgrade over Tejada at the keystone, but it’s unlikely he’s able to match anything close to what Crawford can with the leather. Furthermore, the Giants are now running out to second and shortstop one of the most unathletic, non-rangey double-play combos in the league.
If you’re looking for ways to miss Freddy Sanchez, simply watch one inning of Jeff Keppinger at second base. His range is non-existent. I find myself suddenly longing for Sanchez like children long for summer vacation.
The other reason is his hitting approach. As I said, at least in terms of pure statistics, Cabrera would seem the superior hitter. That being said, his hitting style is exactly what the Giants did not need to introduce into their lineup.
The Giants have one of the hackiest lineups in the game. You have Pablo Sandoval, who many assume is the most egregious hacker of the group. As it turns out, though, that’s simply not true. Other hackers on the team include Cody Ross (though to a far lesser extent in 2011), Nate Schierholtz, Aaron Rowand (big time), Miguel Teajda (when he was around), and now Public Enemy No. 1: Cabrera. It also doesn’t help that Huff is headed in this direction. After posting the best walk rate of his career in 2010 (12.4 percent), he’s posting his worst rate since his first full season in 2001 (7.4 percent).
Cabrera was seeing just 3.25 pitches per plate appearnce (344 plate appearances) in Cleveland before he came over. That’s a disgusting figure that I wouldn’t wish on a Dodger. He’s only seen 2.45 per since arriving with the Giants. And it’s really not working out for him, as he has an OBP of .274 and is slugging .316. He swings at over half the pitches he sees (51.4 percent).
The players on the Giants that rank well in this statistic simply don’t get to play. Those that do get to play take their at-bats as if they really have to pee:
‘I really, really have to pee. I hope this pitch is within striking distance, so that I may strike it. If I can just reach it, I can hit it, hit it anywhere, and then go pee.’
Ball bounces. Ball one.
‘That’s annoying. Maybe the next one, so that I can pee.’
Groudout to shortstop.
‘I just need to chanel my inner Freddy Sanchez here. Fred-dy. Fred-dy. Fred-dy.’
Bounces out to second, moving Cody Ross to third base. One out.
‘I’m awesome. Bochy will be pleased with such a productive out. I really, really want to get in his good graces. This may help, as we now have it all set up for Beltran and Sandoval to drive our lone base runner home.’
As if the Giants’ pitchers don’t have enough things to worry about, they must also be legimately concerned that they’ll be walking back towards the mound after a stressful inning before they’ve even had a chance to take a seat.
For those players with 75 plate appearances, Pat Burrell ranks 12 in the NL with 4.19 P/PA. Unfortunately, he was thrown to the curb by Bochy before heading to the DL. Torres ranks 16 with 4.15, but he’s spent the past two nights on the bench despite the fact that the Giants were facing right-handed starters. Guess who checks in at 10 in the NL? Brandon Belt with 4.20 pitches per plate appearance.
At the bottom of the league are a whole crop of Giants. Tejada saw 3.43, Rowand is seeing 3.55 and Chris Stewart 3.55. Sandoval is seeing 3.56, but he’s 1) not their worst and 2) definitely not what is wrong with the Giants’ “offense.” You can also add acquisition Keppinger to the mix as he’s seen just 3.56 this season, 3.66 in Houston and just 3.31 since landing with San Francisco.
Those who have been much better are Whiteside 4.17, Beltran 4.08 and Mike Fontenot 4.01. And the decent crop includes Ross 3.98, Schierholtz .397, Posey 3.95, and Crawford 3.90.
So among the Giants’ many offensive problems, their inability to get into opposing teams’ bullpens is one of the biggest. The softest part of a team’s run prevention is its middle relief. Unfortunately for the Giants they rarely see those guys. Night after night, the opposing starter is getting into the sixth and seventh innings having thrown 70 and 80 pitches. This is because they are consistently making outs in 1-3 pitches. So what the Giants are seeing, night after night, is their opposition’s starters and late relievers. In other words, the most talented pitchers their opponent has to offer.
Beltran obviously helps in this department. And it’s just too bad that the other player most likely to help is Brandon Belt, wasted in the Travis Ishikawa-like role.
The Giants’ team on-base percentage (OBP) is .304, only two points above the worst team in the league, the Padres, who have an OBP of .302. This is far from surprising, given the types of hitters they’ve chosen to run out there most days.
You think the Giants have chemistry problems? Give me a break. The Giants’ problem is their offense sucks this season. And the other problem is that their offensive philosophy has sucked over several seasons. Their 80 wRC+ — which is on the same scale as adjusted OPS or OPS+ and is park and league adjusted where 100 is average – from 2007 to 2011 is worst in the National League, five points worse than the San Diego Padres and Pittsburg Pirates.
The Diamondbacks and the Giants got excellent performances out of their starter pitchers last night. The main difference in the game was the fact that Arizona got into the Giants’ relief an inning earlier and turned it into four runs. Oh, and they started their young first baseman, who hit a monstrous home run. I’ve looked into this and determined, contrary to popular belief, it’s not illegal.
(If anyone is willing to do the work or knows a good way to do this, please look into the Giants and how many plate appearances (and innings) they’ve had against relief pitchers. A few have suggest the baseball-reference batter splits. You may want to start there, should you choose to take this mission.)
Follow Rory Paap on Twitter (@paapfly).